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NOD TO THE GODS: Buffalo Springfield, ‘For What It’s Worth’
May 5, 2013
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Just like every Sunday night, The Strombo Show celebrates music chosen by music lovers for music lovers. The Nod to the Gods tonight is a tip of the hat to Buffalo Springfield's 'For What It's Worth' to commemorate the forty-fifth anniversary of their final concert in Long Beach, California.

Written by a guy named Stephen Stills, this song from the band's debut album is about anti-war gatherings - and it went on to become an anthem for a generation.

Buffalo Springfield brought together Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer. In the midst of the British Invasion, they were a part of the first wave of North American bands that broke through with a genre-bending sound.

Taking their name from the side of a Roller Company steamroller, the group debuted at Hollywood's Troubadour on April 11, 1966. A few days later, they joined The Dillards and The Byrds as an opening act for a short tour of California.

In Neil Young's Illustrated History, Stills recalled the story behind 'For What It's Worth': "I had had something kicking around in my head. I wanted to write something about the kids that were on the line over in Southeast Asia that didn't have anything to do with the device of this mission, which was unraveling before our eyes.

"Then we came down to Sunset from my place on Topanga with a guy - I can't remember his name - and there's a funeral for a bar, one of the favorite spots for high school and UCLA kids to go and dance and listen to music.

"Officials decided to call out the official riot police because there's three thousand kids sort of standing out in the street; there's no looting, there's no nothing. It's everybody having a hang to close this bar. A whole company of black and white LAPD in full Macedonian battle array in shields and helmets and all that, and they're lined up across the street, and I just went 'Whoa! Why are they doing this?' There was no reason for it.

"I went back to Topanga, and that other song turned into 'For What It's Worth,' and it took as long to write as it took me to settle on the changes and write the lyrics down. It all came as a piece, and it took about fifteen minutes."

After presenting the song to the rest of the band, they snuck off to record it without the producers - as they were immensely dissatisfied with the recording of the album, insisting that each musician record separately and then combining them later into mono to stereo track, which created a tinny sound. So this song, in fact, is the first time that the group's united performance was captured on tape.

The song has since been used countless times by other artists, including Led Zeppelin - who incorporated part of the tune into 'Whole Lotta Love' - and Public Enemy, who sampled it for their 1998 song, 'He Got Game' from the film of the same name.

Buffalo Springfield split after three releases. From the ashes of the band rose Crosby, Stills & Nash (Stephen Stills' band with David Crosby of The Byrds and Graham Nash of the Hollies), the awesomeness of Neil Young's solo career, Furay and Messina's band Poco, and eventually Messina's team-up with Kenny Loggins for Loggins & Messina and Furay with the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.

In 1997, Buffalo Springfield were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without Young's participation. Soon after, they reunited - without Palmer and Martin - for six performances in 2010, including this one from Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert.

For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8pm. And if you want to catch up or re-listen, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.

Related:

NOD TO THE GODS: Stompin' Tom Connors, 'Sudbury Saturday Night'

NOD TO THE GODS: Neil Young, 'Comes A Time'

NOD TO THE GODS: Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash, 'Girl From The North Country'

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